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I am currently working on a story which is based on a flashback event of life. I want the past scene to appear as a current phase to involve readers in my flashback event as if it is happening now. Kindly guide me how to interpret it in an excellent way ?

Following are 2 forms of speeches to write a flashback scene:

  1. It is midnight, but still my eyes are awake and mind is baffled with the screams and laughs of all the students who made fun of me this morning. All these unwanted thoughts are ruining my sleep.
  2. It was midnight and I was trying to sleep but my eyes couldn't rest for a while because I was going through a thunderstorm in my mind which was still in the state of the morning scenario thinking of all the insults I faced in school.

Kindly, guide which one would leave more impact on the reader. Currently, I am using (1) to depict a flashback.

  • I'd take a look at the "flashback" near the end of To Kill a Mockingbird. That was done well. – RareNCool Jan 20 '16 at 21:49
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This is an interesting question. However, there's one thing confusing me. As far as I can tell, if I were to read a flashback, I would prefer reading one in the past tense because when talking about flashbacks you're actually talking about a sudden incident where you're in a current situation and something triggered a past memory, hence triggering a flashback. So this basically means using the past tense would make more sense.

You can check the following link for a more professional answer that is quite comprehensive and could be of a lot of help to you.

  • This is simply Perfect! and the link is very useful. Thank you Scarl – Liz. Jan 21 '16 at 4:59
  • @Ruchika Thank you, glad it helped :) – Scarl Jan 24 '16 at 2:41
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I feel both are confusing in terms of tense and of content.

1) Is it midnight in real time?

2) Is it morning in the dream, in past tense reality, or both?

3) Did you just awaken from the dream, or are you obsessing about the past?

4) Speaking of which, did the laughing students happen in the real world?

I turned my head. This time the clock read 12:05; it must have been another dream. They seem to be getting worse--the dreams, I mean. All right, so I guess lots of kids dream about being naked at school, but I doubt they feel my shame. The laughter comes from everywhere, and the screams stay with me--even to this very second. No way can I fall back asleep before dawn.

Or you can take your reader inside the dream.

"Charles, what do you think you're doing?" Mrs. Hutchinson asked incredulously. What started as smiles and smirks from the classmates around me, quickly cascaded into gesturing and full-on belly laughs.

"N, N, nothing, Mrs. Hutchinson," I lamely replied. She didn't seem impressed with my answer.

Suzie came up to me and yelled, "Haven't you heard of Erin's Law! They teach us about this you know! This is abuse!" She turned to Jennifer, who just couldn't even remotely keep it together, and added, "It's not funny!"

And that's what I woke up to at midnight.

  • I just gave an example. And the situation is of a flashback. In both the statements, I try to explain reader what happened in the past as a present situation. Also, I liked the 1st way which you explained: I turned my head... The describing way is nice and I am definitely going to use it's way :) thank you – Liz. Jan 20 '16 at 17:52
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In the example, it seems as if the narrator is lying awake at midnight thinking about the day gone by. If so, this is not quite a flashback—you're describing your character's thoughts in the present. The choice between "It is midnight" and "It was midnight" is about whether you want to write the body of your story in present tense or past tense. Either is fine, but past tense is more traditional.

For short pieces of remembered dialogue, you can just drop them in.

It was midnight. My eyes were open and my mind was buzzing with the taunts of the students.

"Idiot!"

"Why don't you just leave!"

"You're an embarrassment to the school!"

I rolled over in bed. I couldn't sleep.

The reader will probably get the idea. If the transition out of the memory seems confusing or abrupt, you can add some description that places the reader back in that bedroom at midnight. Have your character adjust the sheets or glance at the clock.

When writing in the past tense, some writers are confused about how to describe events that are further in the past.

One approach is to use the past perfect tense (verbs beginning with "had") in your flashback. A little goes a long way here, and readers may be irritated by long passages written in past perfect. You'll probably find it's sufficient to use it at the beginning of the section, then switch back to the same simple past tense you use for the rest of the story.

It was midnight. My eyes were open and my mind was buzzing as I remembered the cruel treatment I had received from the students that morning.

Melissa's mouth had curled into a cruel grin as she pinned me against the wall of the school.

"You think you're welcome here?" she'd asked.

"Give her a real welcome," said Gina.

Melissa's fingers drew a teasing line down my face, then pinched my lips. It was agony.

The other girls laughed and jeered, then kicked and punched.

I rolled over in bed. I couldn't sleep.

There are many other ways to set off memories and short flashbacks. Some writers do it by placing the past events (often part of a memory) in italics. Others use description, phrases like "I remembered...":

I remembered how Melissa's fingers had drawn a teasing line down my face...

There's no single "correct" way to do this. You may want to try different options and see which one you like best. Also consider whether you want to use flashbacks at all. It is often better to reveal a story in real time rather than through memories, and if events have already been described as they occurred, further reminders may not be necessary.

  • Thank you for such nice descriptive examples. They all will help me enhance better – Liz. Jan 22 '16 at 18:57
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You're asking whether to write flashbacks in past tense or present tense.

Seems to me using past tense makes the most sense. In fact, your whole story can be past tense, as long as you're clear about what is flashback and what is current time.

But really, it's not the tense you're writing in that makes an impact on the reader. Writing a great story with great characters, with a great narrative voice makes an impact on readers, not the verb tenses you use.

  • yes I am asking whether to use past tense or present tense. I agree characters are very important but the way we represent our writing is important as well – Liz. Jan 20 '16 at 17:54

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